By David Mayne
Truly frightening games are few and far between. Games like “Amnesia”, “Silent Hill”, “Dead Space”, “Condemned” and “Eternal Darkness” are among my favorites, and are widely considered to be the pinnacles of the genre. Lately it seems, indie developers have been crawling out of the woodwork with their own survival horror and “jump-scare” titles. A few examples are: Anna, Erie, Imscared, Slender, Fibrillation, Lone Survivor, and now Paranormal. While some are definitely better than others, one thing is for sure, the genre is here to stay. With cutting edge graphics and powerful hardware available on today’s PC’s, these sort of games shine and truly immerse you into their horrific worlds like never before.
Paranormal is the brainchild of Matt Cohen, a member over at GiantBomb.com. A first person “found footage” style exploration game, Paranormal puts you in the shoes of “Mattel Clarke” who believes his house is haunted. In order to capture the strange occurrences on tape, you awaken each night, turn on your camcorder, and traipse around the house looking for spookies. Apparently your character is some kind of artist, so naturally your house is littered with odd sculptures and these eerie little plastic mannequins that he says helps him to visualize “3D space” while he sculpts.
Things immediately start happening after the intro-narration finishes and you are left to your own devices in the house. The term “things that go bump in the night” is an understatement in Paranormal. The formula is extremely simple, as your only goal seems to be to walk around with your camera and wait for things to happen. That might sound boring although it’s anything BUT. As you follow around strange noises, ghostly apparitions, and witness disturbing occurrences throughout the house, you are slowly made aware that a diabolical force is at work here. Your camera, which has perhaps the worst battery life ever seen will die out in about 5 minutes, forcing your to retire to your bedroom and sleep while it “recharges”. While I get that this adds to the sense of urgency, it hurts overall, especially when you want to spend time exploring every nook and cranny of the house. That said, it’s a minor gripe considering the skin-crawling suspense that Paranormal offers right from the beginning.
Paranormal features a unique system of random events and experiences (which the developer calls “Dynamic Haunting”) making no two playthroughs the same, and having played though multiple times, I can confirm this to be true. If something made you jump out of your seat the first time, rest assured that it won’t be there on the second run through. This system of random scares really scores points in my book and really gives the game legs. While you sleep, you can watch the goings on in the house on cameras mounted in different rooms, a definite nod to the similarly named film, Paranormal Activity.
The control is standard first person fare, even supporting the Xbox360 Controller for Windows if you prefer a more console-esque experience. My only complaint is that if you go to the menu, you need to grab the mouse to navigate the options. Graphically, Paranormal is a mixed bag. The lighting effects are top-notch and the overall look is dark and seriously creepy, though many textures and objects are pretty ugly up close. I get that this is an indie project and didn’t have the bankroll to make huge graphical enhancements, but I have to call out the bad when I see it. Here’s the thing, even with some of the muddy visuals, Paranormal’s unsettling atmosphere will make you overlook these shortcomings pretty quickly. I had chills on my first few playthroughs, something that doesn’t happen very often.
If you’re a fan of horror games and like a good scare, pick up Paranormal and help support the developer. They promise free content updates and eventually new locations and scenarios! Prepare to be scared.
+ Amazingly creepy atmosphere and sound effects
+ Great “paranormal” feel and “found footage” theme
+ Solid framerate & Xbox360 controller support
+/- Graphics are a mixed bag
4 out of 5
PC Game Review – Paranormal